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Psychiatrists vs psychologists vs psychotherapists – what are the similarities and differences between them?

There may be times when you need the feel the need for greater support with your mental health and wellbeing than you are currently receiving, in order to live a rewarding life.

To this end, you might have already considered the possibility of seeking out some form of mental health counselling or other assistance with your psychological wellbeing. However, it might not seem obvious to you what your starting point should be, especially given the various terms that are used for professionals engaged in the mental health field.

One particularly frequent point of confusion revolves around the distinctions between a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and psychologist.

Are these terms all effectively referring to the same type of professional? The short answer is no, with staff across these roles tending to deal with different problems. However, there is also a lot of overlap in the work carried out by these types of practitioner, so let’s take a closer look at them.

A summary of how these mental health professionals vary – and are alike

While psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists are all highly knowledgeable about aspects of how the mind works, they are in many respects more distinctive from each other than they are alike. They can be summarised as follows:

  • A psychologist is a professional engaged in the study of people, including how they think, and their actions, reactions, and interactions. Psychologists are not normally medically qualified, and the emphasis of their work is not so much on labels and diagnosis, but instead on considering a history of the given individual’s life events and emotional difficulties. This enables them to better understand what might be causing the patient’s emotional distress, so that they can identify a treatment plan drawing upon an evidence-based psychological approach (for example, cognitive behavioural therapy, otherwise known as CBT).
  • A psychiatrist is a medically trained doctor who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. They concentrate on diagnosing mental, emotional, and behavioural disorders, with their work to this end including a physical examination of the patient, as well as a history of the patient’s symptoms being recorded as part of the assessment. The information gained from these processes enables the psychiatrist to prescribe medicine that is aimed at treating the patient’s symptoms and improving their wellbeing.
  • A psychotherapist is a practitioner of mental healthcare. They are not licensed to prescribe medication; instead, the emphasis of the therapist’s work is on directly delivered talking therapy with individuals, groups, couples, and families. A therapy session will typically entail the psychotherapist carefully listening to the client, reflecting the information the client has shared back to them, and generally helping the client to recognise and navigate the issues that are holding them back in their lives. A therapist may also look to the client’s past and early relationships, or they may place greater emphasis on addressing present ways of thinking and believing, through talking therapies such as CBT.

All three of these types of professional can contribute to supporting a patient’s mental health

As you can hopefully appreciate from the above, there are very real and significant distinctions between psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists, even though considerable overlap also exists across such broad fields. And of course, these types of professional also often work together to help deliver the best possible outcomes for patients.

With the Mental Health Service at GibMed International Hospital comprising the areas of Psychiatry, Clinical Psychology, and Behaviour Therapy, our own skilled and experienced practitioners can help bring all the benefits of the most relevant areas of expertise to your situation.

To learn more about the mental health counselling and related services that we can provide to you and/or your household, drawing upon best practice, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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